On Thursday, October 15th The Gleaner headline declared “Teaching methods stale”. The conclusion was derived from the views of a group of educators who had appeared before the Select Committee of Human Resources and Social Development of Parliament in Gordon House. This Committee had invited the educators to share their views on measures that could be taken to provide quality education and universal literacy. The Gleaner story reported that the Committee had been told that the country’s methods of teacher training have not changed in more than 30 years and that teachers were only being trained by the lecture method. The Committee was also advised that use of the Internet could facilitate changes in the teaching methods in the colleges.
The gist of the story was dismay with the state of teacher education in the country along with the insinuation that teacher education was in a state of stagnation. As would be expected this report was followed by a good deal of controversy.
Last week, there was an Exposition entitled “Partnership in Teacher Education: Retrospect and Prospect” that was mount in the Assembly Hall of the University of the West Indies. Represented at this Exposition were the colleges training teachers, the Ministries of Education and the Teachers Unions in the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica and the Joint Board of Teacher Education of the UWI. This Exposition was planned as part of the celebration of UWI’s 50th Anniversary and its 33 years partnership in teacher education in the Western Caribbean.
The Exposition was not planned in response to the Gleaner headlines of October 15th. The idea for the Exposition came from Mrs Beverly Minott, Principal of Church Teachers College, and was accepted by the Joint Board at its meeting in July. Mr Jerry Craig of the Institute of Education did a first class the job in mounting the Exposition.
The Exposition consisted of five basic elements:
- Booths at which the Colleges, Ministries and Unions displayed their past and current activities in teacher education.
- Keynote addresses from representatives from the UWI, the Ministry of Education Jamaica and Jamaica Teachers Association which evaluated the past and made projections for the future.
- Spotlights on the Colleges in which each college highlighted aspects of its work mainly through presentations by its students.
- A Cyber Café, with connections to the Internet, which highlighted the initiatives being taken by the Joint Board to apply information technology to various areas of teacher education.
- The launch of the Joint Board Web-Site, Management Information System and Wide Area Network by the Prime Minister.
Long timers on the Campus are of the view that the Joint Board Exposition was the best attended exhibition they had seen of all that had been mounted in the Assembly Hall. Almost all who attended and participated said they were inspired by what they saw and heard. The Prime Minister launched the JBTE Information Technology initiatives by making an entry in the Guest Book on the Web-Site, being enrolled on-line in the Demonstration College, and by sending a message to colleges across the island, several of which responded during the period of the Function. Afterwards one of the sound engineers, manning the public address system, came to me and said that he did not know that there were people in Jamaica involved in these kinds of initiatives in education and what he had seen made him proud to be a Jamaican.
The question that arises is how could such a picture of dismay and gloom about teacher education be reported to the Select Committee of the House and such feelings of pride and inspiration be generated by the Joint Board Exposition of the state of teacher education? Could these two different portrayals be dealing with the same thing?
From my perspective the views expressed to the Select Committee focused on some of the problems in teacher education without mentioning any of the attempts being made to address them. It seems very likely that the educators appearing before the Committee were unaware of developments that have been taking place in teacher education over the past five years. Let there be no doubt, teachers colleges have suffered greatly from the effects of structural adjustment and the financial woes of the country. There has been no major investment in pre-service teacher education in Jamaica over the last 25 years. These realities are bound to be attended by adverse consequences. The Report to the Select Committee is not without substance, but it is only part of the story.
The inspirational effect of the Exposition, which was not planned, arose from the fact that it highlighted the enterprise, efforts and energies of the colleges in addressing the circumstances that they face. More than anything else the Exposition highlighted the considerable talents of the teachers in training and the indomitable spirit that prevails in the colleges.
It seems to me that the differences between the picture of teacher education painted at the Select Committee and the portrayal at the Joint Board Exposition is typical of many aspects of our national life at the moment. While some concentrate on portraying the problems others are focused on taking steps to meet the challenges of the times. The headlines apparently go those fingering the problem. To date, there has been no reporting of the Exposition in the press or in the media.
December 1, 1998